Decent knitting product photography the incredibly lazy way

Sadly, this week I have no actual knitting to show off. This is why.

My wrist brace :(

I demand to knit socks!

Hopefully a few more days of rest will sort it out, and I can finally finish Boyfriend’s second sock, but in the meantime I’ve been rephotographing some old projects and thought someone out there somewhere might find a behind-the-scenes look helpful. So here we go!

Inversion Cowl

Still less creepy than my own modelling.

Ok, the pic above isn’t the OMGBESTPHOTOEVAR, but it’s a vast improvement, believe me. This is my so-called Inversion Cowl (because it’s reversible, see?). Originally when the cowl pattern released it was accompanied by some terrible photos, taken quickly in our back garden, of me grinning widely while trying not to display too many chins. Quite a lot of people liked it and bought the pattern, but I tend to think that was in spite of the photos rather than because of the photos. It was traumatic, and so I’ve decided to stick with unmodelled pics for a little while until someone volunteers to model for me.

Enter my Christmas gift from Boyfriend, the creepy mannequin head.

I read some tutorials about how to take some nice white(ish) background product pics, but they all required actually having a few quid to spend on very basic equipment. That was never going to work for me. In the end, my setup involves:

  • The creepy mannequin head
  • A roll of white banner paper
  • Whatever sticky tape we had in the house and some blunt scissors
  • A 3D jigsaw box, pack of foam play mats and various makeup containers to create the raised surface
  • An A4 sketchpad of plain white paper that I’ve so far mostly failed to sketch in
  • Generic point-and-click camera
  • Photoshop CS6

At this point, I’d just like to state for the record that using a computer mouse with your left (or non-dominant) hand is a lot harder than it looks! Blargh.

Anyway, first thing’s first, I needed a white background. We had this roll of basic banner paper lying around in a cupboard, but it was far too narrow to make a proper background. Solution? Cut and tape 2 bits together, of course. If you’re using similar paper, just be sure that you’re taping the non-white side of the paper (ours has a slightly yellowy, less smooth, wrong side). Here’s my super professional setup, using whatever I could reach from nearby shelves to keep the paper from rolling back up on itself.

Taping bits of banner paper together

Sometimes I disgust even myself.

Next up was finding an appropriate place to shoot. I already knew we had no suitable work surfaces, so I’d have to make my own. I’d gathered the boxes/foam mats/etc and just needed to find somewhere to put them. Luckily we have a row of cupboards and shelves in our craft/games room that has a nice big window at a right angle, so that was that. Boxes placed, paper taped, creepy mannequin head settled. Professional or what?

Creating the raised surface

I knew that jigsaw would come in handy some day.

Final setup

Like a boss.

Most photography guides insist you must invest in some sort of foam board for reflecting the light about, and it’s very inexpensive so get that if you can. As already mentioned, though, this project wasn’t so much “on a budget” as just “without a budget” so an A4 white paper sketchbook became my reflector. Despite the general inadvisableness of this method, it did make a significant difference to the level of shadow in a photo. Behold, the comparison!

shadows-before-and-after

It’s like magic!

You can see that the sketchbook didn’t only help eliminate harsh shadows from the background, reflecting the light back onto this hat also made the detail on that side much clearer and brighter. My notebook wouldn’t stand up on its own, so it was a bit tricky to hold that plus hold the camera steady, but it worked out decently in the end.

I didn't do my hair. Deal with it.

I didn’t do my hair. Deal with it.

So here’s the final photo chosen for my cowl. Bit grey, bit shadowy, bit of a crinkled background in places. Meh.

Adjusting white balance - original photo

It’ll get better, honest

I don’t claim to be a Photoshop whizz, and generally avoid using it wherever possible, but there are a couple of super easy techniques to clean up a photo like this. The first and arguably most important, adjusting the white balance. This is what, in theory, will relieve us of the dull grey look of our photo.

First stop, Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. You should see something similar to this, depending on your version of Photoshop.

Photoshop white balance icon

Black, grey, and white dropper icons.

The bottom of these three dropper icons is your white balance (yeah, shocker, the one with the white inside it). Basically what you’re doing here is informing Photoshop which parts of your image should be white. Click the white dropper icon, then click somewhere on your image that should be totally white, and there you go. Photoshop will adjust everything based on this new information.

Slightly whiter

Tada! It’s whiter now!

Experiment with clicking different white parts of your image (remember to undo the previous experiment first!), and the result should be pretty good. Sometimes it can turn a little too bright white, in which case you can reduce the opacity of the adjustment layer until you’re happy with it. Sorted!

Now that we’re a bit happier with the colour, it’s time to tackle the crinkles in the background and that annoying line at the bottom where the two bits of paper were taped together. Again this is really easy, using only the clone stamp and the healing brush. I’m not going to launch into an in-depth tutorial on these tools, but here’s the basic idea:

1. Clone stamp – this will, as the name suggests, clone part of your image onto another. Select the tool, alt-click on the part of the image you’d like to copy (just to the side of the paper join, in my case), now click on the problem area to replace it. Generally to get a seamless fix you’ll want to resample various bits of image with alt-click to make sure you’re always cloning the closest matching colours.

2. Healing brush – This will use a sampled piece of image just like the clone stamp, but will sort of blend it into the surrounding area. So in this example, I’m sampling a decent size bit of background (alt-click, again) from next to one of those annoying crinkles in my background, then using the healing brush to go over the crinkle until it’s nicely smoothed out.

Finally I cropped the image to get rid of that bit of retro video games shelf poking in at the right hand side, and that was that. For my purposes, at least, all done! Yes I could spend hours removing the remaining shadows that were caused by using a sketchbook instead of foam board, reducing the bright whiteness of the mannequin’s face, being more thorough with the remaining slight crinkles around the bottom, etc etc, but I’m not that picky.

Do I win an award for laziest product photography ever? Oh please say yes, I love awards.

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4 Responses

  1. Alicia says:

    I love behind-the-scenes things like this! I struggle with decent indoor photography. I even bought a light box but the stupid thing is made of nylon fabric that is always wrinkled… I did not think of removing the wrinkles afterwards, though.

  2. Hi, visiting from Fibre Arts Friday. Thanks so much for this post, I am chronically unable to take decent photos and your simple advice was really helpful.

  3. Beth says:

    Great tips! I struggle with photographing anything! I’ll be rereading this the next time I attempt anything with my camera!

  4. I always dread taking photos…especially the reds and blues.

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